29 Aug 2000 eskimoses   » (Journeyer)

A friend of mine is researching grad schools for next year, and last week some friends and I visited UNC - Chapel Hill and NC State with her. I had a near-epiphany experience at the NC State library. I randomly went to explore the book stacks -- nine floors' worth! I never got off the second floor, though; I was astounded to find row after row after row of government documents. Transcripts of subcommittee meetings from the 1980's on defense appropriations; transcripts of subcommittee meetings on military honor traditions at military schools; federal budgets from the 1950's; the official reports of the investigations into Kennedy and MLKJ assassinations (each taking up several feet of shelf space!); shelves full of NASA technical documents and memoranda; reports on Russian activities; etc.

I've never been in such a big library before. I'm sure that many others rank even more impressive, but I was literally in a state of shock after seeing all this. I had no idea that so much information even existed: what I saw was merely [a small subset of] information on the US government. If books could think, that library would have been the intellectual superior of any human being who has ever lived. It was a very humbling experience; I felt for a moment able to grasp the immensity of all the things I will never know.

I was both apalled and intrigued by the amount of governmental information -- down to detailed, word-for-word transcripts on subcommittee meetings -- that is recorded. Appalled at the fact that it takes so much effort to run this country (not to mention all that goes on in the various offices and beauraucratic agencies of the executive branch, or all of the judicial decisions handed out each day). Intrigued by the immensity of the US government. It is truly so huge that no one person could ever manage to hold it in their mind at once and consider it as one entity. As a result, it is incredibly resilient and self-sustaining; no one person can have much of an effect. (Aside: this is what discourages me about political corruption; there is not much that it seems can be done about it, since the system is designed to keep the system running as-is.) I think this immensity is the root of my fascination with politics -- I want to understand it and hold it in my mind all at once, yet I never can. But the challenge of reaching for that gives me pleasure.

Somehow this experience will change my life or outlook on life; I'm still trying to ponder that out.

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